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as usual, Setsuko Hara lights up the screen in this drama, plays Takako, a student who lost her father. While at the graveside, she meets Ryukichi, played by Shin Saburi, who is a former student of Takako's father offers to have her live with him and his kids. Ryukichi's wife is ill and lives in a sanitarium. Takako becomes part of the family, caring for the kids and helping Ryukichi. The film's plot moves toward whether Takako and Ryukichi begin to have affection for each other, which of course complicates everything. While the film is a standard drama, Setsuko Hara is wonderful in it, displaying sadness, glee and other emotions extremely well. She at times looks beautiful in the film also, but it is the depths of her emotions that carry the film. This is not one of the best films she has been in (there are so many classics she was part of)but she was an extraordinary actress, always standing out in the films she has been in. She has been called the Katherine Hepburn of Japanese actresses, and that is a fairly accurate analogy, both of them were adept in different genres. Worth a look, but first check out her other amazing films first to get an immediate appreciation of her rare talent.
Aoi sanmyaku (1949)
Be True To Your School
This film was contemporary at the time, as it involves resistance to the changes in the post war period. A young schoolgirl is seen spending time with an older boy and some of her classmates try to trick her by writing a note telling her to meet after school. The teacher Miss Shimazaki (the always great Setsuko Hara)calls the girls on their behavior. Basically, she states that it is okay for them to be with boys. The girls protest. Others are drawn in with their own opinions, including the local doctor, whose opinion has become more progressive as the film goes on. This is an interesting character study about a time when tradition was beginning to be challenged, even as it pertains to relationships. What seems quaint now was at the time very much a tug of war between people. Playing ostensibly a feminist, Ms. Hara is trying to get the girls to not just settle for a life where they will marry and eventually be miserable, since they will more or less be subservient to their husbands . In this context, the film triumphs, but it is a film of its time. Still, this film was made just before Late Spring, one of Ms. Hara's greatest films, in which she ironically plays the daughter of the great Chishu Ryu and is, in effect, a very traditional lady. Late Spring is an excellent character study of mores. This film tackles it in a different way. It is not as compelling as Late Spring, but it is certainly worth watching.
This is not meant to be a great film, the storyline is not new and it is fairly predictable. However, it is still enjoyable due to the quick pace of the film and the general likability of the actors. Mili plays a physiotherapist who goes to Sambalgarh to help a Raja learn to walk again after he was in an accident 10 years before that killed his oldest son. However, he does not really want to try. Mili is a middle class doctor and is a "fish out of water" in such a prim, proper household. She speaks out of turn, acts way too familiar, but over time she becomes liked. She makes a difference in a family that finds it difficult to communicate with each other. The living soon is Vikram, and though engaged, he and Mili develop a liking for each other. So, its very enjoyable, and the pretty Sonam Kapoor makes for a very appealing title character. I'd also recommend it to anyone who wants to begin to try Bollywood films. It has appeal that transcends the setting of the film.
The Dirty Picture (2011)
Absorbing, Tense At Times and Essential
Before watching this, I only watched one Silk Smitha film but have read about her, how by ramping up sexuality in film she was both lusted and reviled. This film stars the immensely appealing and capable Vidya Balan as Silk, a young lady seeking fame as an actress. At first discouraged, her turns as a sexy item girl to actress make her both famous and infamous. Remember, this is India, not Hollywood, so in the film she constantly pushes the envelope of decency and sexuality in film. This works against her eventually, which gives the film its tension and best, though sad, scenes. The acting is all good, but Ms. Balan is a revelation. Whether loosely based on Silk Smitha or not, the story itself keeps your interest, with the direction being crisp and paced well. The bigger the screen, the better the film will feel. Enjoy.
Kibô no kuni (2012)
A Recent Memory
Anyone familiar with the work of Sion Sono knows he pushes the limits of things, whether they be taste or life. This film does the same but in an entirely different way from his more recent work. The film is about an earthquake in Nagashima and possible effects of radiation from a nuclear power plant not that far away. Yasuhiko Ono refuses to leave, staying with his wife Chieko, who has a form of dementia. He is asked to leave and refuses, but insists his son Yoichi and daughter in law Izumi (played by the star of Sono's Guilty Of Romance, Megumi Kagurazaka)evacuate, which they finally do. Izumi finds out she is pregnant and, though according to the government is in a safe area, is so cautious about radiation she makes everyone in town dislike her. If you have never lived through a natural disaster you would have no idea what to do. Despite this, the film is not depressing. There are moments that are poignant, but its also about a by now weary people and the choices they make. A particularly amazing scene is when Yasuhiko finds Chieko, who wandered away, and puts her on his back. That expression of love is simple but uplifting. While the subject matter can be emotionally jarring, it is a film with purpose and even some restraint. Mr. Sono continues to be a terrific writer/director and this somewhat departure from his latest films like Love Exposure, Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance is just another example of his uncompromising, brilliant work.
Jikô keisatsu (2006)
After The Fact
This is a nine episode miniseries about police officers who seem to be underemployed, as they don't otherwise seem to be doing much about crime. Kiriyama decides as a hobby to solve expired cases, meaning there is a 15 year statute of limitations on catching a murderer. He confronts the persons that knew the victim and does some honest detective work. With him is Mikka, who helps him in his endeavors and seems to have a crush on the somewhat enigmatic Kiriyama. Every episode is stand alone and fun to watch. Its not a binge watching drama, it works best if you watch one per week. Its billed as a comedy, and it does have comedic overtones. Kiriyama confronts the killer and the episode is over. Not a great drama but worthy of your time.
Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Guy
This film is about entertainment manager Shep Gordon, who got his start by agreeing to manage (and, 43 years later, continues to manage) Alice Cooper. He also manages others, and this documentary goes through his life. You hear from people who you don't see commenting in films often, like Michael Douglas, Mike Myers (who also directed) Alice Cooper himself. It glosses over many things, there are no scandals, no moments of jaw dropping revelation, just the story of a man looking back at his career mostly with a smile. The most poignant part of the film are the parts involving the late Teddy Pendergrass, but there is also commentary from an ex's grandkids, whom Shep has all but adopted. Although now semi-retired and living in paradise in Maui, he still sees people all the time. Again, nothing scandalous, just a mostly straight forward telling of a man who mucked through the entertainment industry and still comes out of it well loved and admired. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject, but it really is refreshing to watch a documentary about someone who hasn't been anything but a good person and who is held in high esteem by his friends and colleagues.
Sunshine on Leith (2013)
At Times Wonderful, At Times Not
This film is a series of interconnected situations regarding relationships, all based in the same family. Davy and Ally come back from combat, to seemingly the delight of everyone. Ally looks to rekindle his relationship with Liz, who is Davy's sister. Davy meets Liz's best friend Yvonne and they begin a relationship. Liz and Davy's parents Rab and Jean appear very happy about this. There, however, are secrets and actions that threaten to undermine all of the relationships. When the film is set to songs by the Scottish group The Proclaimers (American audiences will know them from their big hit 500 Miles (I'm Gonna Be),sung by the characters and others joining in, the movie is wonderful, it is vibrant and fun, along with sad and even heartbreaking. When the stories are told without music the movie falters, since it becomes almost like a soap opera. However, look past those moments and bask in the great city of Edinburgh and sing along if you can. Its those moments that make this film really worthwhile.
Poignant But Good
This film is all the more poignant since Levon has recently passed, but the film itself is also about resolve, dreams and looking forward. Levon developed throat cancer, and the treatments caused him to lose his voice. The film is about the struggle and wish to regain his voice and make a comeback, which he did, releasing two great studio albums (Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt) and a live recording, Live At The Ryman. The film visits the past of course, and it touches on his feud with former Band guitarist Robbie Robertson over song credits, but it is more about the then present. Deceased Band members Rick Danko and Richard Manuel are touched on, and it is obvious Levon misses them (we all do). The post-cancer career Levon had was a gift to his fans, and he will never be forgotten. Somewhere, he, Rick and Richard are harmonizing together. For now, any fan of Levon and The Band should watch this, along with The Last Waltz, the extraordinary final show of The Band. Levon is greatly missed by so many, but this film makes us love him just as much as we always did and in that way, it triumphs.
Interesting, Unusual Approach, But Not Essential
Depending on how much you like the Replacements will be how much you like this documentary. First off, two things you need to know: None of the Replacements are interviewed, and there is no footage of them. You have various people, most you've never seen before but do have credibility in telling this story, which is done chronologically. If you have seen them live (I have four times-twice riveting, twice not so), you just never knew what you were going to get. If they were sober and interested, they were one of the greatest bands that ever existed. If they were drunk and doing mostly covers, you'd hate to have brought someone to the show and told them beforehand they were amazing. This film embodies this, and some of the comments are very affecting. The people who speak that are known, including Grant Hart and Greg Norton of Husker Du (that would make an interesting documentary), manage to tell their stories and they are mostly articulate and wonderful. Think of the film this way: Lets say a documentary of your favorite band was being made and they asked you to comment. There is gushing, some dismissive anecdotes. If you're a casual fan, you won't get it. If you are a real fan, this will be very watchable. I would have liked to see Paul, Tommy or Chris speak, but you can't have everything. Last thought: Does this film make you want to buy or listen to them? The answer is yes. In that alone, this film succeeds.
English Vinglish (2012)
Sridevi has made a return to film in this meaty role in which she plays Shashi, a traditional lady in India who speaks mostly Hindi while her husband and children are very versed in English. They even put her down about it. She is asked to go to America to help her sister plan her daughter's wedding, and she has to go alone. She is a veritable fish out of water, not being able to communicate properly in English, even causing trouble at a coffee shop (that scene tries to reinforce the notion that Americans are rude. That notion is dispelled soon enough, however). Frustrated, she enrolls in a four week English learning course, to fit in better. Brave to Sridevi, who is great in this role. Like Sadha, in which she plays an amnesiac who becomes childlike, she becomes the character so convincingly it is almost like she isn't even acting. Still such a pretty lady with big beautiful brown eyes, she just radiates. I highly recommend this film, especially to anyone who has known the immigrant experience. Even if you haven't, this light comedy is very much worth watching.
Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)
Little Crazy But Very Interesting Documentary
This doc is about and features the somewhat eccentric but amazing drummer Ginger Baker, of Cream and Blind Faith fame. The film goes through his life chronologically, with some interesting commentary from his family (3 of his wives), a few of his kids, but especially artists from the time, like Clapton, Jack Bruce and a host of admiring drummers who give their insights on his legacy. Throughout the film, the chain smoking Baker appears sometimes to be put off by having to recollect various times in his life, but that would be true of just about anyone. Just watching some of the great clips over the times you realize that he just had the profound ability to play. If you're a fan of his work, this is essential. Otherwise, this is a worthy rock doc from a unique talent who has survived long enough to be able to tell it as he saw it. Very watchable.
Zonbi asu (2011)
Silly, Crazy, Gross
If you have watched Tokyo Gore Police and Machine Girl this is similar in its extreme. There's blood like those other two films, but this one is far more gross. As the title suggests, there are special effects that are pretty graphic. I don't recommend you eat before this film if you have a weak stomach. There are a few good fight scenes but they do not redeem the film enough. Of course, its not supposed to be real, but it borders on being disgusting. I give credit to the Japanese for being inventive enough to go to these kind of extremes, but this film is a bit too much to handle. I think teens, early 20's people who like zombie films that are out there may find this worth watching but it is not for mass appeal.
Good, Absorbing, Funny, Poignant, Well Acted
Sadma is the story of Rashmi (the very good and very pretty Sridevi), who gets into a car accident and not only has amnesia but reverts to a six year old. Samu, played by the versatile Kamal Hassan, gets taken to a brothel by his best friend and finds her there. He rescues her and takes her to his village. The film is about how Rashmi responds to things as a six year old, her child like ways. She smiles, giggles, looks sad and frightened, often in a very short time. In the hands of lesser actors, this would be a very tough film to stay with, but with Sridevi and Mr. Hassan you grow to care so much about them and to appreciate their relationship. The question is whether Rashmi regains her memory. Also in this film in a more seductive role, though its not as a main character, is Silk Smitha. However, this is Sridevi's film, her big beautiful eyes expressing all of the emotions/feelings she has. Recommended for the story itself, but more recommended for Sridevi and Kamal Hassan, who are both talented and make an engaging pair.
Last Days Here (2011)
Disturbing But Compelling
I am not a fan of Pentagram, I have barely heard of them. However, I barely heard of Anthrax and thought that documentary was superb. That film was about a band soldiering on, ad midst a mostly apathetic public. This is the story of a broken wreck of a man named Bobby Liebling, someone who actually is doing drugs on film. Thankfully, he seems more coherent as the film goes on, to the point where you can understand him. Even if you think of him as a drug addled loser (this is not disrespect, watch the film), you want him to clean up and succeed. This film at first had no meaning to me, but it is the story of a second act. another chance. The best thing about the film are the interviews, as they are not with musical legends, but people who love him. You can see their frustration, but you also see the caring. I wish him well. The film is good, not in the echelon of the Anthrax and Rush documentaries, but worth watching.
The Central Park Five (2012)
Miscarriage Of Justice, Myopic Film
As someone who lived in New York at the time, this was a big story at the time and it has resonated through the years as a miscarriage of justice. Told at a languid pace, Social Psychologist Saul Kassin is probably the best thing about the film, as he explains why certain things were done and said (and intimated). What is less understood is the incredulity of some of the former defendants that they were accused of the crime and that they were interrogated for so long. This is standard police procedure to "break down" a suspect until they confess. And, they did confess. While these confessions turned out to be lies/fantasy, the film is trying to blame the police for this (their confessions were videotaped). Wrong place at the wrong time, and that is sad. The film is not bad, but it seems to be almost like it was done in a myopic manner, way too one sided. Of course the police etc declined to comment, but that makes the film a lot less effective. Also, and it has to be said, re-visiting this case brings back bad memories for everyone. So, if you did not know about the case, it is somewhat interesting, but if you were in New York then, its like looking at a documentary of the Bernie Goetz subway shooting in 1984. Its still a tough thing to revisit.
Most people are aware of Archie Panjabi from the film "Bend It Like Beckham", but especially from the American television series "The Good Wife" in which she plays sexy investigator Kalinda. This film gives her the opportunity to really stretch her acting chops as Yasmin, who for her family is traditional Muslim but for work at a center for the mentally challenged changes into Western clothes and spends time at a bar. The World Trade Center bombing happens and the Muslim community in this film set in the North of England are now under suspicion (there is even a note in Yasmin's locker that states "Yasmin likes Osama". She had to be told who Osama was). The film is sober, absorbing, well acted and played, especially Ms. Panjabi. If fans of "The Good Wife" check this out, they will surely be surprised to see how emotionally deep her character is. This film captures a glimpse into a post 9-11 world in which the world, especially the world depicted in this film, becomes very complicated. Recommended.
Sometimes Disturbing But Also Very Interesting
The Cowsills were a band made up of brothers, one sister and their mom, ho had a few major hit records in the ate 60s. They were the inspiration for the show The Partidge Family. While this documentary chronicles the fairly short time they were fairly big stars, it more goes into the psychology of the family itself, especially about their abusive father Bud. There are interviews with all of them, and the insight they give to themselves and what they meant to both the world and each other is kind of fascinating. Although they look back in some regret you also see the love that still exists between them. This film is recommended for anyone who is interested in music documentaries that delve beyond the music to what all of their time in the sun and beyond meant. You see immense talent, but you also see the struggle. By the way, the music is good. If you remember them or are curious, this is just about a must see.
There is no question of the extraordinary portrayal of the title character by Daniel Day-Lewis. It is forceful, nuanced and absorbing. He is truly a great actor. The misgivings I have are the telling of the story, which kind of veers toward political correctness. Besides Mr. Day-Lewis, most of the other roles are underwritten. Tommy Lee Jones has shown himself to be time and again a wonderful actor, but he is not in this film enough for us to consider his role in the passing of the 13th Amendment. Sally Field, as Mary Todd Lincoln,barely needs to be in this. The film wants to please everyone, which is fine, but it reaches too far. It is at times way too much talk. However, watching Daniel Day-Louis is worth the price of admission. So, a little conflicted but recommended.
Crossfire Hurricane (2012)
Not Essential, But Interesting
Although, this film has some tremendous footage never or rarely seen it also has the feel of a crib notes version of the band. Its hard to encapsulate 50 years into less than two hours and this film is watchable, but mostly for Stones fans. The members of the band do voice overs (everyone would like a film where they all sit together and comment on things), and Brian Jones, Altamont and other things are covered, but this is by no means comprehensive. That is probably the point, if you're even a casual fan you know whats been going on with the band for 50 years. Stones fans will likely and rightly give this an 8 to 10 rating, others that never cared about the band may not wish to sit through it. Recommended for the great footage, but don't expect to get much more insight into the band than what you already know.
Creepy, Standard But Not Horrible
Don't read the back of the DVD case, it outlines the whole film. The film is about Mr. Chuck (Mark Cheng), who prefers rough sex. Nam (the beautiful Chingmy Yau) spurns his advances at a party, so he befriends, then betrays her room mate Man (Jacqueline Ng). He rapes her but makes it look completely consensual, and is found not guilty by a court. He exacts revenge, then Nam does (again, the DVD case tells you how, I won't). The film is somewhat creepy and Mark Cheng is sleazy, which means he did his job fairly well. In many films, Chingmy Yau is eye candy mostly, but she gets to stretch her acting muscles a little here. Its good to see that, she was a big star at the time. The story has been told before and there are many "sequels" (I doubt they are true sequels, more just variations on this theme) but if you can handle it, its not bad. There is a little nudity in it, but its not per-se gratuitous.
Aval Oru Devaalayam (1977)
A Sister's Sacrifice
This is a black and white film about a family of siblings and a mom whose husband left, leaving only the eldest sister Kavitha to work and provide for them. The family is mostly unambitious, with the brother, who has children and also lives in the house with the wife and the kids, and sisters who do not work. Kavitha has a boyfriend who wants to marry her, but she can't since she is still providing for the family. Kavitha is feared/not liked by the family since she is so serious, but there is also a sweet side to her, which she does not show often. Kamal Hassan, who has since become a big star in films in India, is in a co-starring role and he provides a bit of comic relief.The actress who plays Kavitha (I am not sure, I think it is Sujatha, no other names are given) is good in a fairly challenging role. She is an exotic beauty, tough as nails but ultimately fair. The film is over two hours, thirty minutes long, but it is good. Not for everyone, but a fairly good melodrama.
Zenzen daijobu (2008)
Either Side Of The World
This is a small film in that it is about a few people and the film just goes along slowly, but there is an unusual poetic sense to it. Teruo is 29 and a tree pruner who also delights in scaring people and wants to open up "The Ultimate Haunted House". Akari watches a homeless woman who displays dolls outside her ramshackle dwelling. Akari paints pictures of her. She gets a job as an orderly at a clinic and is a total klutz and resigns. She ends up working with Teruo's father's bookshop, as the father, seemingly needing a break from life, takes a trip. There are also side characters, including a young man with half of his face covered in a rash. This film is a seemingly nonchalant view of the human condition, of acceptance of those who are "different" and a search for happiness that may be just within reach. This is not a mainstream film, it is slow moving, with intermittent comedic flourishes, but it is very well made. You feel better about yourself after watching it and that is some ringing endorsement.
Bai mao nu (1950)
Like A Folk Tale
This film is about Xi'er, played by Tian Hua in her first role (pretty cool fact: She is in a movie this year, 62 years later!). Xi'er is a daughter of a farmer, and she falls in love with Dachun. Xi'er's father is a tenant farmer and when he cannot repay the debt (by unfair means), Xi'er is given to the landlord as an indentured servant. Xi'er's father dies and Dachun joins the Red Army. Xi'er looks to escape to escape this fate and escape the landlord's home, where she toils rather to the point of exhaustion. Two questions are answered in the film which cannot be answered here: The first is: Does Xi'er re-meet Dachun? and What is the significance of the White Hair Girl? The film is not by any means perfect and my copy was not very well restored, but the universal themes of young love, good vs evil and perseverance of the will are all here. Its been re-made, this appears to be the black and white original. It was watchable, and has the air of a folktale, which made it pretty appealing.
Who's That Girl? (2011)
Standard Rom Com With A Little Twist
Fresh faced Phillipine beauty Anne Curtis plays Elizabeth, a successful young executive. While at school, and looking somewhat plain (you can't fully hide her beauty), she has a major crush on the school heart throb, John (Luis Manzano). One day after she freezes up in class (due to John coming into class with a note) and is outside crying. John cheers her up. Years pass and she thinks of him still. She opens the paper to find he died and goes to the wake and falls apart, but she realizes its John's father, not John who passed. However, by her hysterical reaction everyone thinks she had an affair with John Sr., causing a reaction and vows of revenge from his wife, played by Eugene Domingo, who is over the top funny in this (she is always fun to watch in film). Various situations ensue, some crazy, some cute. Its pretty much a chick flick, but a slightly above average one, due to Ms. Curtis and especially Ms. Domingo. While not laugh out loud funny, it moves along pretty well. If your favorite films are romantic comedies with a measure of screwball comedy/slapstick. you'll like this.